Every day we see headlines about health. We are told that smoking is bad for us, that we need to exercise more, and that we’ve grown obese. We learn about new treatments for diseases about which we are only dimly aware, or we hear that a particular herbal remedy may make us feel better about ourselves. We are told that meditation or optimistic beliefs can keep us healthy or help us to get well more quickly. How do we make sense of all these claims? Health psychology addresses important questions like these.
Why Did Health Psychology Develop?
To many people, health is simply a matter of staying well or getting over illnesses quickly. Psychological and social factors might seem to have little to contribute. But consider some of the following puzzles that cannot be understood without the input of health psychology:
• When people are exposed to a cold virus, some get colds whereas others do not.
• Men who are married live longer than men who are not married.
• Throughout the world, life expectancy is increasing. But in countries going through dramatic social upheaval, life expectancy can plummet.
• Women live longer than men in all countries except those in which they are denied access to health care. But women are more disabled, have more illnesses, and use health services more.
• Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, and influenza used to be the major causes of illness and death in the United States. Now chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the main causes of disability and death.
• Attending a church or synagogue, praying, or otherwise tending to spiritual needs is good for your health.
By the time you have finished this book, you will know why these findings are true.